Britschgi, A., R. Spaar & R. Arlettaz (2006)

Impact of grassland farming intensification on the breeding ecology of an indicator insectivorous passerine, the Whinchat Saxicola rubetra: Lessons for overall Alpine meadowland management.

Further information

Biol. Conserv. 130: 193–205



The decline of insectivorous farmland passerines has been attributed mostly to global decrease in arthropod availability, as a result of intensification of agricultural practices. The diminution of the Alpine Whinchat, once a wide spread insectivorous passerine, has been ascribed to nestlosses due to earlier and more frequent mowings. However, potential conjugated effects of deteriorated arthropod food availability had yet to be investigated. We compared food supply and nestling diet in intensively vs. traditionally managed grassland. Abundance and diversity of arthropods were much lower in intensive areas, where small-sized invertebrates, which do not enter nestling diet, were also predominant. Parents breeding in intensive habitats fed less biomass to nestlings than adults from traditional habitats. Nestling diet was less diverse and dominated by less profitable prey items in intensive than in traditional habitats. Feeding rate did not differ between the two habitats, but foraging distances from nest tended to be greater in intensive farmland. There were no significant differences in clutch sizes and hatching success with respect to management intensity, but fledging success was higher in traditional habitats. The recent intensification of farming practices has led to a decrease in the availability of grassland invertebrates, and of important Whinchat nestling food in particular, affecting parents´ foraging efficiency and reproductive success. Conservation actions must not only reduce nest losses by postponing mowing, but should also promote grassland farming that is less detrimental to invertebrates. Dominant at the study site, organic grassland farming does seemingly not provide sufficient conditions for Alpine Whinchats.
Keywords: agroecosystems, farmlandbirds, grassland management, Saxicola rubetra , biodiversity conservation